With Prey‘s release just around the corner, I thought i’d delve into the history of the long-troubled IP. Back in 1997 it was looking like the first person shooter would never come to fruition. 20 years later Arkane and Bethesda have reimagined the resulting title to critical acclaim and widespread excitement. This buzz is not undeserved, on its original release in 2006, Prey was something of a marvel. Unfortunately that was in 2006, and there’s a lot of reasons we’re seeing a reimagining and not a remaster.
Developer: Human Head Studios
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, Linux
Release: July 2006
Genre: First Person Shooter
In 1995, the idea for the original Prey game was conceived. 3D Realms wanted to design an alien abduction game with a cherokee protagonist. These themes ultimately made it through the entire development ordeal, but not without considerable headache. 3D Realms initially decided to use Prey in the same way Epic Games would use Unreal Tournament. Their in-house engine was built to command then technically-advanced portal mechanics as well as impressive destruction physics. 3D Realms imagined their engine taking off after Prey’s release. It was tough, then, when the entire project fell apart for the first time in 1997.
Throughout the resulting decade of developer hand-overs, engine experimentation, and panicked feature-stuffing, Prey was both celebrated as the next show stopping title and lamented as an industry casualty. Not even Corrine Yu could save the project when brought in in 1998 to develop the engine. The project fell into disrepair once more in 1999.
2001 saw major technological shifts happening in the engine world. One of these developments was the introduction of mainstream portal physics as mainstay of game engine structure. Human Head Studios were contacted to lead the project in its final iteration and the id Tech 4 engine was finally selected to do the heavy work.
The resulting portal technology in Prey‘s 2006 iteration was surprisingly advanced. Not dissimilar in style or handling than that of Portal, Prey’s orange and blue fizzling ovals proved a hit with an industry hungry for innovative mechanics and unique play modes. The plot saw Tommy deciding to leave the reservation of his childhood, but getting more than he bargained for when he unexpectedly boards an alien spacecraft. From here, he must battle his way through the alien inhabitants of the bland grey metal aesthetic using a variety of alien weaponry. It’s a story rooted in authenticity that allows players to experience the ordinary before being thrown tumultuously into a bizarre world of extraterrestrial politics, terror, and exploration.
The game went gold on July 28 2006, and released to the awaiting public a month later. While it met a fairly impressed audience, it’s safe to say the original has not stood the test of time. The graphics are underwhelming, even considering their era, and the mechanics are frustratingly under-utilised. In fact, 2006 Prey plays exactly like you’d expect a game with as stormy a development history as this to. Fascinatingly creative mechanics are horrendously abandoned half way through a playthrough, remaining stagnant throughout the rest of the game. Sure, manipulating gravity and solving puzzles by blasting portal holes in the walls lures you into gameplay in the first few hours – players must have been enthralled to finally experience such promises – but when that’s all these mechanics are good for things wear thin. It’s safe to say, opinion on the original Prey release was pretty split, but critically positive enough to warrant the announcement of a sequel.
Bethesda grabbed the reins, and attempted to take Prey down the home stretch to the final finishing line with a successful sequel. It was not to be. In 2009 Vice President Pete Hines confirmed that the sequel was not going ahead, stating that “it’s a franchise we still believe we can do something with – we just need to see what that something is”.
Whether or not Bethesda know what it is yet, we will find out on May 5th. We’ve had a brilliant glimpse into the future of the reimagining with the demo released last week. Sudden mimic attacks and intense wrench flailing seemed to win over the community, and many are now awaiting the reinvented Prey 2.0.
Morgan and Talos 1 await.